Darren Star on the Struggles of Showing Gay Characters in ‘90210,’ ‘Melrose Place’

Emmy-winning Darren Star is the creator of “Melrose Place,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Sex and the City.” His series “Younger” airs on TV Land.

Variety’s 106-page marriage equality special issue includes more Q&As, including ones with Bob Greenblatt, Barney Frank and Eric Garcetti.

How important was it to integrate gay characters into your storytelling?
It was incredibly important. I wanted to tell relevant stories. On “90210,” Kelly dated a boy who struggled with his sexuality. It was a small storyline, but it was important for me to start that conversation early in the series.

How did the network react?
It was definitely a hot-button area. It was more “talk about it, don’t show it.” But introducing that idea into the world of high-school students, and talking about a character struggling with his sexuality among characters that people already loved, and seeing people having a positive reaction to him was a great moment.

How did audiences respond?
The reaction is always much more positive and matter-of-fact than the anticipation by the powers that be. I knew the audience of the show.

You continued to face difficult conversations with the network, though, especially with “Melrose Place.”
They were honestly uncomfortable conversations among adults. You’re thinking, “I’m having this conversation among adults who are trying to maintain a status quo that they don’t themselves subscribe to.” I certainly felt that among a lot of the network executives. I would think, you live in the world of reality, and being gay felt demeaning. You’re like, “Really?” A gay character can’t hold hands with his boyfriend? He can’t kiss somebody? But at the same time, I thought, we’re trying to move the needle forward. We’re trying to create characters that people identify with and love. So let’s see what we can do.

How did you handle it?
Having a hit show helps. Having a gay character as a regular who wasn’t ashamed of his sexuality. Who dated. That was a first step. It’s not about having an agenda. It’s about being honest. All of our shows were not about the character being gay. Every once in a while, Matt would have to date somebody; that’s when we’d have to push boundaries that now seem very silly.

Matt’s kiss got cut.
We filmed it. The network had the final cut. It was a kiss too far from their point of view. It was a place they didn’t want to go. Twenty years ago, it was verboten. When you watch “I Love Lucy,” two married characters were not allowed to share a bed. Network TV has always been archaic and frightened about showing sexuality. That’s always been their biggest taboo. They’ve caught up a lot. It has to stay somewhat relevant to the audience that watches it.

With “Younger” on TV Land, how have things changed?
We have gay relationships, straight relationships. All characters are treated equally. We’ve had a fun passionate kiss between two women. It’s not part of the conversation on whether it’s permissible. There’s no question about it.

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